Interesting Angelenos

Josh Kun, 4 other Angelenos win MacArthur grants

josh-kun-macarthur.jpgJosh Kun. Photo: MacArthur Foundation.

Author and USC cultural historian Josh Kun is in the 2016 class of creative and accomplished people selected as MacArthur Fellows. The MacArthur Foundation announced the latest group of winners tonight. The so-called genius grants bring a lot of attention to the recipients along with an award of $625,000 distributed over five years.

In addition to Kun, the new fellows include Ahilan Arulanantham, director of advocacy and legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California; writer Maggie Nelson from the School of Critical Studies at California Institute of the Arts; and two Caltech faculty members, microbiologist Dianne Newman and geobiologist Victoria Orphan.

Kun, 45, is a professor of communication in USC's Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, and most recently the author of two noteworthy books on Los Angeles. "To Live and Dine in LA: Menus and the Making of the Modern City," published in 2015, uses the menu collection of the Los Angeles Public Library to explore urban history. Two years earlier, he based "Songs in the Key of Los Angeles" on the library's sheet music collection. Both books were published by Angel City Press, the Santa Monica publisher of my books as well.

"Kun is a cultural historian exploring the ways in which the arts and popular culture are conduits for cross-cultural exchange," the MacArthur Foundation blurb says. "In work that spans academic scholarship, exhibitions, and performances, Kun unearths and brings to life forgotten historical narratives through finely grained analyses of material and sonic manifestations of popular culture."

Kun is co-editor of "Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies" (2012) and "Tijuana Dreaming: Life and Art at the Global Border" (2012). He is director of the Popular Music Project in the Norman Lear Center at the University of Southern California.

Capsules of the other local winners from the MacArthur Foundation announcement:

Ahilan Arulanantham is an attorney working to secure the right to due process for individuals facing deportation. Through advocacy and successful litigation of a series of landmark cases, Arulanantham has expanded immigrant detainees’ access to legal representation and limited the government’s power to detain them indefinitely. Courts have traditionally characterized deportation proceedings as civil cases, which means defendants do not have many of the rights guaranteed to criminal defendants, including the right to counsel and the right to ask for release on bond. As a result, immigrants going through deportation hearings often have to represent themselves in complex proceedings, during which they can be detained for months or even years.

Maggie Nelson is a writer forging a new mode of nonfiction that transcends the divide between the personal and the intellectual and renders pressing issues of our time into portraits of day-to-day lived experience. Nelson’s five book-length works of nonfiction are grounded in experiences and topics with which she is struggling. She invites the reader into her process of thinking through and making sense of her unique concerns with the help of feminist and queer theory, cultural and art criticism, philosophy and psychology.

Dianne Newman is a microbiologist investigating the role that bacteria have played in shaping the Earth and continue to play in modern biomedical contexts. With training in environmental engineering, Earth science, geobiology, and molecular genetics, Newman brings together techniques and perspectives from numerous fields to study the evolution of ancient microbes’ metabolic processes (i.e., ways of obtaining needed energy and nutrients) and their effects on the geochemistry of their environments.

Victoria Orphan is a geobiologist whose research sheds new light on microbial communities in extreme environments and their impact on the cycling of nutrients and energy through the oceans. Much of her work focuses on microorganisms living in deep-sea beds that sequester large quantities of methane released from seeps in the ocean floor. Because these microbes cannot easily be cultured (or grown) in the laboratory, Orphan skillfully combines techniques from molecular biology and mass spectrometry into novel methods that enable the capture and analysis of the activities of individual microbial cells, as well as the relationships among different microbes, in their natural environments.

Full list of winners.

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